Swoosh: 40 Years Fly By

Funny how 40 years swoosh by: June 1971 is the date the Nike Swoosh was launched. Designed by Carolyn Davidson for $35 – a “Bargain Brand,” the Dept. of Nike Archives notes in its extraordinarily understated tabloid-sized newsprint history of the mark (produced for the “benefit of Nike employees”). What others might take an entire book (and many trees) to convey – explaining the origin and history of the Swoosh logo – the “DNA” accomplished in a mere 28 pages.

Included are commentaries by designers and design critics, former employees and recollections by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) that evolved into Nike.

The origin of the mark goes like this: Knight wanted to differentiate BRS’s custom product from the ones they were importing from Onituska in Japan: “…so Knight turned to a graphic design student he met at Portland State University two years earlier.” One day in 1969, the student, Carolyn Davidson, was approached by Knight and offered $2 per hour “to make charts and graphics” for his business. For the next two years Davidson managed the design work on BRS. “Then one day Phil asked me if I wanted to work on a shoe stripe,” Davidson recalled. The only advice she received was to “Make the stripe supportive of the shoe.” Davidson came up with half a dozen options. None of the options “captivated anyone” so it came down to “which was the least awful.”

Well, the rest is history. And the Swoosh emerged from “the stripe” and is one of the most recognized logos in the world.

Nike Swoosh Sketch

Nike Swoosh Sketch

Nike Shoe Stripe

Nike Policing the Swoosh

Nike Swoosh Guideline

Nike Swoosh Sunburst



68 thoughts on “Swoosh: 40 Years Fly By

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  2. scott Patrick

    In fairness to the real artist and creator of the swoosh design, there sould be serious mention of the Newport cigarette logo that was out years ahead. It was so-o common to see this logo when the concept of the swoosh for Nike just happened. It is not an original idea, but a “borrowed” one.

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  46. Joshua

    I have to agree with Matt on this one. To expect a percentage of a companies equity for a design is a little rediculous. Who is going to want a cut next? Your Landscaper because your store front looks welcoming?
    A logo design does not make a company – it only helps with recognition. The logo is only as valuable as the value of the product it represents. If Nike was run poorly all those many years ago we would not be having this conversation now. The most valuable thing the designer probably gained was recognition. Which may be linked to the reason that she did not sell her $600,000 worth of shares.
    Milton Glasser is a good example of this. Although he was doing just fine previously, he recieved $0 for his I Love NY logo. However, the recognition shot him from successful to famous and likely ended up equaling much more income in the long run than the logo itself was worth.
    We, as designers, charge an rate based on our experience and abilities. Not the performance of our clients.

  47. Matt

    If a designer had charged me 6% of my company’s equity for creating a logo when starting my companies, I would have laughed and hired someone else (and would do the same even moreso today). 

  48. Sean Gallagher

    Let it be learned :
    Always seek a precentage in equity anytime you create intellectual properties and marks.
    Industry standard for visual design is the “fee” +6%
    And the quote in the book about the mark being less signifigant thatn it’s use is BS.
    Without the mark, there is nothing to use.
    Protect ya neck!

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  50. Chaz DeSimone

    It’s gratifying that the creative fee was only $35, not $35,000, because I have always pointed to the Nike logo as an example of “missing the opportunity” for excellent design. If a designer would just analyze a creation before casting in stone (or printing ink), a superb rendition might result. In this case, rotating the mark just 180 degrees would render the perfect mark: an “N.” I believe a logo should not only convey a feeling, but represent the name, if possible. Here it’s possible! So the upside-down mark would no longer feel like it’s bouncing off the floor; it would instead look like it’s leaping into air. When Nike realizes the value of this simple change, I’ll send them a bill for $35,000. No, make that $350,000.

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  53. graeme

    i never understand peoples problems with the whole $35 fee,
    there was no garantee that nike whoudl become massive, also $35 back then must equate to a few hundrad now. she was paid a fee to do her job, thats how it works.

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  56. Adriane Stark

    Great post Steve. Phil Knight rarely does TV interviews, but did Oprah in her final season. When discussing the infamous Nike logo the fee was mentioned, which gave the entire audience a laugh. (though painful to many designers who could relate) When Oprah followed up about that, Knight, who seems a very fair man, said he went back and “made it right” with the designer, hinting at a much bigger number in the long run. We can only hope it was. Davidson has created one of the most recognizable identities on the planet, on her own, well before the days of the major branding consultancies.

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